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APAC

Australian government lawyer names China in interference investigation

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia has named China in a court document as the foreign state under investigation by police in its first foreign interference investigation, though Beijing dismissed the allegation as an anti-China smear.

FILE PHOTO: The Australian flag flutters in front of the Great Hall of the People during a welcoming ceremony for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (not in picture) in Beijing, China, April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Ties between Australia and its biggest trading partner have been plagued over recent years by Australian complaints of Chinese interference in its politics. China has consistently denied the accusations.

A document lodged in the High Court on Sept. 1 by the Australian Government Solicitor is the first official acknowledgement that the investigation into an alleged plot to influence an Australian politician centred on China.

The Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) have declined to comment on whether a raid on the offices of a New South Wales (NSW) state politician and his staffer on June 26 was related to China.

But the court filing stated the search warrant used by police identifies the foreign principal as the “Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)”.

John Zhang,who worked for NSW Labor politician Shaoquett Moselmane, has asked the High Court to quash the search warrants used to search his home, business and Moselmane’s parliament office.

The government’s court document, signed off by Australia’s Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue, was lodged the day after it warned Australian journalists working in China to leave for safety reasons.

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In the government’s Sept. 1 filing, the government solicitor stated there was “no doubt that the suspected offences related to the plaintiff’s dealings with the Hon Shaoquett Moselmane MLC, allegedly on behalf of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), from about 1 July 2019 to about 25 June 2020, in order to advance the interests and policy goals of the PRC”.

The Chinese government has said ASIO searched four Chinese journalists in Australia in June.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing in Beijing that China never interfered in other countries.

“Some figures in Australia are fond of smearing and attacking China to whip up anti-China sentiment,” he said.

Australia’s foreign interference law criminalised harmful or covert conduct by foreign principals seeking to interfere in the democratic processes to support their intelligence activities or prejudice Australia’s national security, the court document said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Chinese consulate general in Sydney rejected an Australian Broadcasting Corp report that one of its officials was also named in the search warrants.

“The accusations that the Consulate General and its official engaged in infiltration activities are totally baseless and nothing but vicious slanders,” the statement said.

A police spokeswoman said the investigation was going on.

Australia’s tense relations with China worsened this year after Australia called for an international enquiry into the source of the novel coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year.

(This story refiles to fix links to earlier reports)

Reporting by Kirsty Needham, additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel

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